Publisher Gestalten writes: The Valley of the Shadow is a collection of photography by Miron Zownir that documents a world of unconditional authenticity, dire ecstasy, and demonical possession that exists in the shadows of urban areas in New York, Berlin, and post-Communist Eastern Europe. As controversial as they are uncompromising and poetic, Zownir's expressionistic black and white portraits capture the morbid dignity of society's misfits, freaks, and the homeless.
This book won't cheer you up if you're feeling disenchanted with life but it will certainly transport you to another universe.
Miron Zownir's b&w photos document the existence and habits of the people who live -voluntarily or not- at the margin of society. The junkie, the ageing punk, the drunk, the freak, the stray dog, the farmer in a Bulgarian city that time forgot, the aficionado of s&m parties, the cripple, the transvestite, the transexual, even the corpse. Zownir mixes these shots with images that portray his vision of religion, another parallel world made of penitents in procession, and frantic women visiting Lourdes in search of a miracle.
Everywhere he looks, the photographer encounters full on desperation and provocation. The images i found most painful to watch were those showing the shocking poverty in the streets of Moscow in the mid 90s.
No text overkill. There are almost 4 pages of introduction and off you go...
Gestalten has another Zownir book in its catalogue: Radical Eye, published in November 1996.
Warning! This is a rather messy attempt to review two books in one go!
Arctic Perspective Cahier No. 1 - Architecture, edited by Andreas Müller (available at amazon USA and UK) + Cahier No. 2: Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy, edited by Michael Bravo, Nicola Triscott, texts by Michael Bravo, Lassi Heininen, Katarina Soukup, Nicola Triscott, David Turnbull (available at amazon USA and UK.)
Publisher Hatje Cantz Verlag writes about both books: Involving HMKV (Germany), Projekt Atol (Slovenia), the Arts Catalyst (United Kingdom), C-TASC (Canada), and Lorna (Iceland), this collaboration focuses on the global, cultural, and ecological significance of the polar regions. These zones are causing current geopolitical and territorial conflicts, while at the same time posing opportunities for transnational and intercultural cooperation. Arctic Perspective uses media art and the research of artists to investigate the complicated, global, cultural, and ecological interrelations in the Arctic, and to develop concepts for constructing tactical communications systems and a mobile, eco-friendly research station, which will support interdisciplinary and intercultural collaborations. Scheduled to run over a period of years, this project will involve workshops, field work in the Arctic, publications, exhibitions, and a conference.
While volume 1 focuses on the challenges of inhabiting the Arctic, volume two takes up geopolitical issues in the region. Upcoming Cahiers will explore questions of technology and landscape.
Both publications stem from the Arctic Perspective Initiative , an international media arts partnership that attempted to provide the public with alternative insights into the Arctic as a living environment and a critical marker of global change. The API approached Arctic as a complex and compelling cultural territory, instead of a mere object of political, military, commercial and economic interests.
Cahier No. 1 documented the result of an open design competition to create a modular research unit that had to be easy to transport and assemble but also have a negligible impact on the environment. The presentation of the winning architectural designs by Richard Carbonnier, Catherine Rannou and Giuseppe Mecca is accompanied by a series of essays that put the competition and the whole API architectural experiment into context. The first one is by Marilyn Walker who provides an overview of shelter forms and functions in the far North (includes tips on how to build a long-lasting igloo!). Carsten Krohn pens the mandatory essay on Buckminster Fuller's dynamic architecture. Jérémie Michael McGowan invites readers to question the status of Arctic architect hero that Ralph Erskine has been enjoying for decades.
The third part of the book brings side by side 2 very different perspectives on an exploration trip to the Arctic. Captain John Ross's extract from A voyage of discovery, made under the orders of the Admiralty, in His Majesty's ships Isabella and Alexander, for the purpose of exploring Baffin's Bay, and inquiring into the probability of a north-west passage dates back to 1819. Matthew Biederman and Marko Peljhan's Fieldwork journal was written in August 2009 to chronicle their arrival at Igloolik, their moves from campsite to campsite, experiments at fishing, cooking caribou and communicating locally and globally under antagonistic weather.
Now the most fascinating book for me was Cahier No. 2: Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy which demonstrates with brio that the Arctic territory is far more than a reserve of oil and natural gas energy, more than a space to build military bases and meteorological research centers, more than a world of commercial opportunities ripe to be seized as soon as the dwindling ice sea will have completely melted and opened up new Northern sea routes. The book sets aside geopolitical interests and calls for independent, intellectual conversations between artists, journalists, scholars and the people who are actually living in the Arctic. As the introduction to the book states:
Counteracting historical amnesia and contemporary self-interest and indifference goes to the heart of these essays. Together with the Arctic Perspective Initiative, they aim to ground perspectives on politics and art in technological interventions (that include broadband communications, environmental monitoring, satellite observation, video documentary -and writing) by making them embodied, geographically anchored to a specific strategic indigenous place, and politically self-aware.
In her essay, Nicola Triscott from The Arts Catalyst, looks at how the cultural and political characteristics of technology in the Arctic need to extend beyond strategic interests and commercial exploitation and take into account the needs of the people living in that part of the world or the challenges presented by climate change. I discovered some amazing works in Triscott's review of artists who have recognized the complexity of the Arctic situation. I'm particularly curious about On the Third Planet from the Sun. This documentary, by Pavel Medvedev, follows inhabitants of the Arctic region of Arkhangelsk 45 years after the test of the H-bomb, who recycle the remains of fallen space rockets that were launched from a nearby base.
Michael Bravo's contribution brings light on how outsider focus on Inuit's traditional craft knowledge tends to perpetuate clichés about populations who, just like you and me, enjoy high-tech gadgets. His experience shows that Arctic communities are more than ready to collaborate with international labs and produce new knowledge and designs that meet their own needs.
The three remaining essays reflect further on the necessity to discard simplistic perspectives on the Arctic region: Katarina Soukup wrote about Inuits' artistic appropriation of new technologies. David Turnbull sums up observations about human movement through time. Finally, Lassi Heininen encourages us to see northern indigenous people as credible political actors, both on a regional and international level.
Arctic Perspective was not only an expedition, it was also a series of workshops, conferences and exhibitions (such as a show of the same name at HMKV in Dortmund.) I missed every single one of them. The first two cahiers of Arctic Perspective allowed me catch up with the experience. I'm now looking forward to reading the upcoming books in the series.
Institute of Network Culturea and NAI Publishers say: We live in a world of rapidly evolving digital networks, but within the domain of media theory, which studies the influence of these cultural forms, the implications of aesthetical philosophy have been sorely neglected. Vito Campanelli explores network forms through the prism of aesthetics and thus presents an open invitation to transcend the inherent limitations of the current debate about digital culture.
The web is the medium that stands between the new media and society and, more than any other, is stimulating the worldwide dissemination of ideas and behaviour, framing aesthetic forms and moulding contemporary culture and society.
Campanelli observes a few important phenomena of today, such as social networks, peer-to-peer networks and 'remix culture', and reduces them to their historical premises, thus laying the foundations for an organic aesthetic theory of digital media.
Vito Campanelli lectures on the theory and technology of mass communication at the University of Naples "L'Orientale". He is a freelance curator of digital culture events and co-founder of MAO - Media & Arts Office. His essays on media art are regularly published in international journals. And so far i had followed his writing on Neural online and paper mag. I opened his book with curiosity. And closed it with the feeling that it was probably the most intelligent publication i had read on media art culture for a long long time.
Web Aesthetics navigates with verve through the idiosyncrasies, rituals, dynamics and paradoxes of web culture. Some of the issues Campanelli brings attention to are well-known, other would gain from getting more attention: spam, the inability of present legislation to adapt to the age of digital media, blogs as stages of self-referentiality, the domesticated forms of dissent offered by facebook groups, the acceptance of a 'disturbed aesthetic experience' when downloading movies, remix practices as new cultural default, the difficulty experienced by new media culture to steer out of its 'underground' stigma, the erosion of the boundary between art and design, interactivity, the codification of website usability, etc.
Some of the points Campanelli makes echo my own preoccupations. Such as when he writes loud and clear what media art festival goers have been whispering for as long as i've been one of them: the disinclination of the community to practice or welcome any form of dissent and external critique. Or when he raises the problem of monolingualism. Most of the conversations in conferences, blogs or on mailing lists are indeed taking place in english with all the limitations this entails. While Campanelli's book is written in english, he refreshingly brings much of his Italian culture on the table with many references to Italian thinkers and artists.
Yes, the book is theory. It is dry. Unlike most of the books i review on wmmna, it contains no picture whatsoever but the writing is lively, the style is sharp and witty, and not matter how complex the issues he raises are, Campanelli dissects them with clarity and ease.
Expect serious reflections along with a subtle sense of humour and a couple of data dandies.
Don't miss Geert Lovink's Web Aesthetics Interview with Vito Campanelli.
Image on the homepage: Marco Manray Cadioli.
010 publishers writes: The Atlas of the Conflict maps the processes and mechanisms behind the shaping of Israel-Palestine over the past 100 years. Over 500 maps and diagrams provide a detailed territorial analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, explored through themes such as borders, settlements, land ownership, archaeological and cultural heritage sites, control of natural resources, landscaping, wars and treaties. A lexicon, drawing on many different information sources, provides a commentary on the conflict from various perspectives. As a whole, the book offers insights not only into the specific situation of Israel-Palestine, but also into the phenomenon of spatial planning used as a political instrument.
Malkit Shoshan is an Israeli architect. She is the founder and director of the Amsterdam based architectural think tank FAST whose research explores the relations between architecture, planning, politics and activism in Israel/Palestine, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and the Netherlands.
In her introduction, Shoshan explains that while studying at the Israel Institute of Technology, she was assigned to design a new program, preferably a shopping mall, on an empty plot near Tel Aviv. During her research, she discovered it to be a ruined Palestinian cemetery. From that day she started collecting illustrations, maps, photographs, diagrams and other visual materials about 'a history that is not directly told."
Her experience reminded me of an image from Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's book Chicago. The work takes its name a fake Arab town built in the Negev desert by the Israeli Defense Force for urban combat training, it also explores myths about the state of Israel. One of the photo series in the book shows biblically idyllic forests. Planted by Israel throughout the country, they have erased the Arab communities that once lived there.
The artists explain: For example, in our Forest Series we document pine forest in Israel that, since 1948, were systematically planted over the ruins of evacuated Arab towns. These forests look natural, as if they have been standing there forever. Our strategy here is to photograph the forests at the crack of dawn so the quality of light reinforces the feeling of harmless beauty, the myth of nature. Here we have appropriated conventions used in landscape painting, including the notion of the sublime and the picturesque. We wanted to show how the state of Israel has used these conventions, consciously or not, to stage or design a landscape that felt timeless and innocent, a landscape that would not only physically erase a recent violent history but would also suggest a natural and legitimate space. The forests seems to say that if anything evil exists here it must be in your imagination or subconscious.
Coming back to Atlas of the Conflict, i found its graphic design to be particularly efficient and elegant. Page after page. Even the compact and elongated size of the volume matches perfectly the territory explored in the book. Congrats to Joost Grootens for his awesome job!
The book is made of two part. One is made of some 300 pages of maps. The second part is the lexicon which through definitions, photos, graphics, a timeline and more maps attempts to reflect on the representation of various issues involved in the conflict. It was probably the easiest section for me to explore. Shoshan draws on material from sources that range from official statements of the Israeli government, to newspaper articles, wikipedia entries and even Malcolm X opinion about Zionism. Some of the key issues highlighted by author are the ones you expect: the Gaza Strip, land and property law in Israel, the Atorot airport, the difficulties faced by bedouins (check out this short doc that portrays this historically nomadic indigenous population and the way they are slowly uprooted from their culture and community.), smuggling tunnels, the Gaza freedom flotilla, refugees, Nakba, etc. Others however embrace the conflict from a more surprising but still relevant perspective: the donkeys dyed zebra in Gaza, images of propaganda leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft on Lebanon, the notion of present absentees as well as a few architectural peculiarities. I was particularly intrigued by the images and structures of the caravillas. After the evacuation of the Gaza settlements in 2005, the Israeli government provided the evicted settlers with temporary lodgings made of two caravans, each forming half of a villa. Hence the name caravillas.
Now the first part of the book is a masterpiece when you think how difficult it is to map the territory covered by Palestine and Israel. Its borders are in constant flux. Its separation walls, settlements, parks and roads fragment space. The displacements, the destruction of whole villages, the building of new ones further complicate the picture. The maps seemed daunting and overwhelming at first but i quickly realized after having closed that part of the book that i had absorbed a valuable and impressive amount of information about the water dimension of the conflict, the fractured topography of Jerusalem, the various typologies of settlements and the way they shape the landscape, the many ways a piece of land or building can be appropriated, etc.
One thing i find important to note is that i don't believe that the content of this book is as objective as it is claimed to be. The maps, photos and definitions might seem clean-cut and dry but you can nevertheless read through them. I would probably agree with Malkit Shoshan on many points about the Israel/Palestine situation but hers is not a neutral book. For example, i believe she chose her side when she decided to add to the lexicon "ethnic cleansing' or the Malcolm X quote i mentioned above. But then how can one claim to be able to stay impartial when exploring in such detail the conflict (which i would personally prefer to define as 'occupation')?
Atlas of the Conflict is a fantastic tool kit for anyone interested in the history and contemporary situation of Palestine and Israel, but also in the way architecture, urbanism, transport infrastructure and even the humble pine tree can participate to power and domination.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage via Stop the Wall.
Publisher University of Chicago Press writes: Since the early days of photography, critics have told us that photos of political violence--of torture, mutilation, and death--are exploitative, deceitful, even pornographic. To look at these images is voyeuristic; to turn away is a gesture of respect.
With The Cruel Radiance, Susie Linfield attacks those ideas head-on, arguing passionately that viewing such photographs--and learning to see the people in them--is an ethically and politically necessary act that connects us to our modern history of violence and probes our capacity for cruelty. Contending with critics from Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht to Susan Sontag and the postmoderns--and analyzing photographs from such events as the Holocaust, China's Cultural Revolution, and recent terrorist acts--Linfield explores the complex connection between photojournalism and the rise of human rights ideals. In the book's concluding section, she examines the indispensable work of Robert Capa, James Nachtwey, and Gilles Peress, and asks how photography has--and should--respond to the increasingly nihilistic trajectory of modern warfare.
A bracing and unsettling book, The Cruel Radiance convincingly demonstrates that if we hope to alleviate political violence, we must first truly understand it--and to do that, we must begin to look.
There could have been more cheerful ways to close this year of book reviews but i've covered so many documentary photo exhibitions over the past few months that i needed a moment to pause and ponder. That's exactly what The Cruel Radiance gave me: a dignified, captivating, if slightly crushing, pause.
The first part of the book charts the history of photo criticism and considers the relationships between historical ideals and photo practice. I had no idea that documentary photography was in need of a knight in shining armour. Contemporary photo criticism has inherited from the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Susan Sontag a distrust and disdain towards documentary photography. Photography, they say, turns us into voyeurs, it often verges on pornography, it exploits victims, glorifies suffering, erodes our capacity to act in solidarity, 'deadens our conscience', etc. Susie Linfield's book attempts to analyse and correct the accusations and ultimately sets forths a convincing plea in the defense of war photography. Well, at least it was most convincing to me who was already a converted.
A second section investigates 4 historical moments and photographers who documented them: the Holocaust, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, civil wars in Sierra Leone and other African countries and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It might seem disconcerting to some of us but the Nazi regime was intent on documenting its deeds: in 1936, the magazine Illustrierter Beobachter ran an illustrated article on Dachau, Auschwitz had a staff of two official SS photographers and German soldier Heinrich Jöst took dozens of photos the day of his birthday as was strolling around the Warsaw ghetto for his own entertainment. Because Jöst lacked the decency to turn away from pain and horror, his photos give a striking and implacable account of the horror of the ghetto.
The images taken by the Nazi later served as evidence of the atrocities taking place inside the camps but taking these photos was not just an act of documentation, it was also an act of cruelty meant to further degrade the victims.
Susie Linfield realizes that any representation of the Holocaust pales in front of the reality they seek to depict but she also believes that the photos invite us to approach the Holocaust not as a historic fact but as a human experience. By looking at these images, she writes, we can defeat Hitler's plan to throw the Jews into complete oblivion.
Li Zhensheng worked as a party approved photographer for a newspaper in Harbin during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976.) Along with his official, 'approved' snaps documenting the political movements, Li also made thousands of photo which he had to hide for 40 years under the floorboard of his apartment. His secret photos depict the atrocities of the time, and bring us closer to the movement's victims, especially as they go through rituals of public humiliation.
The photos taken of child soldiers, child prostitutes, of maimed civilians in Africa explore what happens when violence is drifting away from ideology, ideas and a vision of political change. How should we react? Which kind of solidarity should we summon when we are confronted with images which further widen our conception of what human beings can do to each other but with which we cannot associate any political affinities?
The last chapter in the section dedicated to various moments in history investigates the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through images of tortures and executions in both the Muslim and what the author calls the "Western" world.
The gruesome images taken at Abu Ghraib portray cruelty as much as they celebrate it. The images of violent acts distributed by Islamic militants do the same. The footage of suicide bombings, beheadings and other types of execution are performed for the camera. None of these images were taken by professional photographers, they are nonetheless extremely powerful. They are not witnesses of violence anymore, they are new forms of violence. These photos seek to deny, indeed crush, the very idea of solidarity between peoples. Furthermore, they raise a disturbing question: "Does watching these images make us guilty of colluding with the other side?"
The author's conclusion is that while we need to look at the violence of the world we inhabit, we also need to find a balance between the attempts of a Bush administration to sanitize images from the war and photos and videos of beheading and humiliation that do little to deepen anyone's political thinking.
The third section of the book focuses on three war photographers:
Linfield calls Robert Capa "The Optimist" mostly because of the way he tried to 'repersonalize' war through images of solidarity, individuality, brotherhood;
James Nachtwey is "The Catastrophist" because of the extreme brutality of his photos. Nachtwey doesn't produce photos that people would want to hang on their walls. His images are so harsh, yet visually sophisticated, their violence so explicit that they are the focus of the ongoing dispute over photojournalism and 'disaster pornography'. They also seem to be divorced from religious, political or historic redemption and make us wonder what happens to documentary photography when it no longer has a politics to support. But is there a right way to depict the implacable scenes the photographer saw? Is it better to turn away?
Gilles Peress is 'the Skeptic' for its ever questioning of the media, the subjects he photographs, his own style, his certainties.
The Cruel Radiance is a fantastic book, especially because of the author's belief that if today we are experts at dissecting and manipulating photos, it does in no way mean that we have lost our capacity to respond to them. I was sometimes taken aback by some of Linfield's political comments but i admire her faith in documentary photography, in its power to make us react, in its role in developing a conscience and debate about human rights.
Linfield's narration is elegant, gripping and clear. She does a fantastic job at describing pictures but i often wish she'd have included much more images in her book instead.
Publisher Actar writes: Condensed matter. Cooking science invites us to look at cooking, gastronomy and nutrition through the scientist's eyes and see them as a truly cultural activity which brings a wealth of knowledge into play. Challenging the predominance of visual culture, our eating habits and the pleasure of food privilege the senses of taste, touch, smell and even hearing. Perception and landscape define our cooking, but cooking also has a component of reflection and innovation based on scientific and technological research. Informed by this awareness, the new Catalan cuisine as exemplified by the Fundació Alícia is a major force for culinary innovation. This volume constitutes a unique document of this task. The book 's QR codes link the paper media with the digital media, augmenting the reality and giving further information.
During the last edition of Documenta, a debate sparkled to determine whether cooking was an art. Roger Buergel, director of the Kassel exhibition had indeed challenged the definition of art by naming Ferran Adrià a featured artist of Documenta. For each of the 100 days of the event, two visitors were randomly selected and flown to the Costa Brava for a dinner at Adrià's Michelin 3-star restaurant elBulli.
Polemics don't rage so fiercely when cooking is affiliated with science. Cooking Science: Condensed Matter is the catalogue of a show of the same name which closed recently at Arts Santa Mònica in Barcelona. The exhibition turned the art space into a culinary laboratory and demonstrated that cooking goes hand in hand with science and experimentation.
Some exhibition catalogues stand on their own two feet without trouble, they can be enjoyed even if you didn't visit the exhibition they are meant to complement. Others struggle to give you that same satisfaction. Cooking Science suffers from its frequent references to senses and exhibits that cannot easily be reproduced with mere words and photos. Scientist and 'taste designer' Dario Sirerol manages to suggest the power of a combination of our senses in his essay 'Synaesthetic Cuisine. Odour Perception and Cookery'. But no matter how evocative and informed his text is, it clearly cannot have the same impact as the 'fragrant' room he curated for the exhibition.
I would also have liked to read a medical/nutritional/dietetic point of view on the chemicals and processes involved in the creation of the unexpected textures, scents, temperatures, flavours and other sensations that characterize, for example, the Molecular Gastronomy often referred to in the book.
Still, the book has the merit of having introduced me to a fascinating world where cooking meets physics, chemistry and biology. I also discovered a few charismatic figures such as the one of Hervé This.
Hope you'll enjoy as much as i did this video of a demonstration lecture that the cook and chemist gave on Molecular Cooking is Cooking - Molecular Gastronomy is a Scientific Activity: recent results of molecular gastronomy and how to use them at the Imperial College in London last year.
Related: Nouveau Neolithic, PIG 05049, a conversation with Christien Meindertsma, The Meat of Tomorrow.